Dryer Fires

The Chief’s Corner

Fire Safety Tips from James Levine,
Fire Chief of the Upper Saddle River Fire Department and
20 year veteran of the New Jersey fire service.

One of the most common sources of fires in homes is right there in your laundry room.  Yes, your dryer can do a lot more than just dry clothes!  Under the right circumstances this innocuous appliance can morph into a fire breathing dragon of sorts.  Though they normally require minimal attention, domestic dryers do need to be used with care and they do need some occasional maintenance. Annually, there are over 14,000 dryer fires in U.S. homes and the leading cause was lack of maintenance, followed by unknown mechanical failures, and then by leaks, breaks or part failures. KISS RULE #1:  Have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional.  It’s also smart to have gas-powered dryers regularly inspected to be sure that their gas lines and connections are sound.

Now a fire can’t burn without fuel, so what do you think was the most common sources of ignition in these fires?  They are: clothing, dust, fiber and lint.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, those are the typical ingredients in a laundry area.  So what can be done to prevent these occurrences? KISS RULE #2:  Never operate your dryer without a lint filter.  Clean the lint filters before or after each use.  Be sure to remove accumulated lint from around the drum (inside) and around the outside of the unit.    And let’s keep the entire area around the dryer clear of combustibles like boxes, newspapers and clothing.  Let the beast breath, don’t crowd it!

From the standpoint of fire, lint is better than kindling, so be sure to get rid of any you see.  And what about the lint you don’t see?  It’s a good idea once a year to detach and clean the flexible vent hose to be sure it is clear of any lint.  KISS RULE #3:  Make sure you do not have a plastic vent hose on your dryer.  If you do, immediately replace it with a flexible metal hose.  It’s inexpensive and readily available at any hardware store.  More importantly, this little exercise could save you from a “meltdown”.  That’s where the hose gets so hot it melts and ignites with accumulated lint causing many house fires every year.  Trust me, this is more common than you can imagine.

 Another common problem with dryers, as well as many other household appliances, is that they are not always plugged into an electrical outlet that is suitable to their needs.  Overloaded circuits can result in blown fuses, tripped circuit breakers or WORSE! Try to have your dryer plugged into a dedicated circuit.  This leads us to KISS RULE #4:  Turn the dryer off when you leave the house.  Remember, it’s hard for it to catch fire when it’s not energized.  And just the peace of mind of knowing that your dryer won’t be burning your house down while you’re not home is worth turning it off before you go.

Questions?  Or thinking of becoming a volunteer firefighter?  E-mail Chief Levine at:  USRFD1230@prodigy.net